Articulating the Unspoken- Trish Cooke (Copyright ©2006)

SHE Caribbean, September 2006

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It probably took many radio listeners, especially West Indians, by surprise when nine-year old Roslyn charged with energy and vivacity, relived the memories of her early days in Dominica. “I’m the best coconut tree climber in the whole of Newtown…”

Profound emotions explicitly expressed in ‘Unspoken’, a radio drama mini-series written by Trish Cooke.

An actress, children’s author, playwright and past television presenter on a BBC children’s programme, ‘Play Days’, Trish finds it difficult to categorize her profession; and quite understandably so. With a degree in Performing Arts, she seems to have no inhibitions. Her work ranges from acting in British soap operas, to writing for television, film, radio and theatre, both for adults and children alike.

Born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, in England, Trish Cooke is of Dominican parentage. With most of her work eulogizing Afro-Caribbean day-to-day life, she is an exemplary role model to Caribbean writers.

Trish started writing at the age of eleven. It was the one thing that kept her connected with herself in the early stages of her adolescent life. Growing up with West Indian roots in a British culture meant that she quite often felt protective of her heritage. “I think this is particularly true of black West Indian women in Britain…they keep a lot of emotions in there,” says Trish, pointing towards her chest.

Coming from a large family with five siblings being Dominican by birth, the island’s history and traditions were very much a part of Trish’s upbringing. “I feel as if I was born there even though I wasn’t,” says Trish of Dominica. “I grew up in an environment where the history of Dominica was a constant part of our lives.”

Her latest drama series aired on BBC Radio 4 is said to be one of the most deeply moving and nostalgic pieces of West Indian drama ever aired on British radio. When asked why she titled her play ‘Unspoken’, Trish confesses, “that’s the way I felt throughout my life. I found this to be my way of releasing certain emotions that I wasn’t able to say aloud.”

Based on the Windrush era in the late 1940s, the play celebrates the life of a fifty-year old Dominican woman, Roslyn Joseph. It narrates her journey from being a young girl in Dominica, and migrating to England to meet her parents at the age of nine, leaving behind her young sister and grandmother to whom she was very close. With the constant use of flashbacks, ‘Unspoken’ draws you into the period when young Roslyn was innocently enjoying the simplicity of island life, and then takes you into her present world as a middle-aged woman in modern day England.

Her family’s past being the main means of research, Trish was able to enrich her play with the first-hand experiences of some of Britain’s earliest Caribbean migrants. “The experiences of West Indian children immigrating to England was something that interested me greatly,” she states. “ The adults who came here chose to- they had a choice, but the children were sent for- and that was something I hadn’t seen written about before. I thought that voice needed to be heard.”

During the preparations for her play, written both in English and Dominican Patois, Trish made a rather stimulating discovery. The persons on whom the story was based actually enjoyed being part of her new project. “Listening to them talk about their story was just unbelievable. It was as if they were longing to talk about it! They hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about it like this before, and there had been no reason to do so. It was just a part of their lives that they accepted- and so, with ‘Unspoken’ they were able to talk about it and bring it back to life.”

A story which has been left untold for so many years has now been an inspiration for many, especially the children of the first wave of post-war Caribbean migrants in the United Kingdom.

During the Windrush era in 1948, the majority of West Indian migrants intended to stay in Britain for a relatively short period of time.

By the early seventies, West Indians had become a familiar and established part of British society and they had achieved more than mere survival. Trish Cooke is a living testament to this hard-earned success.

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